I have asked the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Taoiseach many times in this House about the level of co-operation with law enforcement agencies in the EU and further afield. Citizens rightly have a perception that much of the spate of drug-fuelled murder and crimes are directed from outside the State. There is also the perception that little is being done to prevent illegal guns entering the State and being used in dastardly and appalling murders. While the Bill before us deals mainly with the issue of legacy inquests in the North, does the Minister seek to bring forward further legislation in this area?
I note that section 5, however, inserts a new section 28A into the Garda Síochána Act 2005 which amends the power of the Garda Commissioner to enter into agreements with police and law enforcement agencies outside the State by permitting the sharing of information with such international law enforcement bodies equivalent to our Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, the Garda Inspectorate, the Policing Authority and a coroner under the Coroners Act 1962, a commission of investigation or tribunal of inquiry and particularly the Criminal Assets Bureau. It is to be hoped the flow of information, which the new section 28A will permit, will lead to arrests and prosecutions of any directors of serious crime in Ireland who live outside the jurisdiction. Section 7, of course, did not appear in the general scheme of the Bill but it proposes to insert a section 81A into the 2005 Act to allow the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to enter into agreements with law enforcement agencies outside the State.
Section 4 amends the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 in relation to people before the courts who may have been extradited from our State. Section 6 allows the Garda Commissioner to assign members of the gardaí for service outside the State. It is directed mainly towards Europol. In 2015 we passed legislation permitting gardaí to be assigned to a special intervention unit in a crisis situation in another EU state which many citizens will also find controversial.
The Bill’s main function is to allow gardaí to give evidence in the North when called to co-operate on coronial inquests relating to the Troubles. It will amend the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 and the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008.
I note that when the Minister first published the Bill, and acknowledged the victims of the Troubles in the North, he said that the Bill shows “concrete demonstration of the Government’s commitment to dealing with the painful legacy of conflict in Northern Ireland”. From that point of view, the Bill is very welcome. As others have noted, the Bill will provide for a number of issues outlined in the Stormont House Agreement, which is almost five years old.
Very little progress has been made on establishing the various institutions over the past five years. This legislation will cover the work of the historical investigations unit.
I noticed a few days ago that the new head of the PSNI, Mr. Simon Byrne, asked that the Northern police force be relieved of the duty of investigating appalling historical crimes and murders during the Troubles. He said his force does not have the resources and was not best equipped, although I believe that at present 60 detectives are investigating 1,200 killings from the period outlined in the Bill before us. We have the decision of the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal by the Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, on the depredations of the notorious Glenanne gang and this will have to be investigated. It was a very welcome development. Just the other night, and the Minister might have seen it, a very poignant documentary on the showband era was broadcast. It retold the story of the horrific attack on the Miami Showband in 1975. The Glenanne gang investigation seems to relate to well over 100 desperate murders and appalling events for which we need accountability.
The Bill defines a Northern Ireland Troubles related inquest and provides for the taking of evidence from gardaí for the purposes of the inquests. It also carefully sets out the procedure to be followed in those cases. Last February, we heard about additional funding to be in place by April and that the legacy inquest unit would be set up to deal with the 52 remaining legacy inquest cases of 93 deaths. Mrs. Justice Keegan is the presiding coroner of this.
As other colleagues have said, the Bill is a welcome step forward. It helps us to begin at long last to seek the closure we need on the appalling legacy of suffering and strife that happened in our country over the period of the Troubles.